The Making of the Bed

An old woman and a little girl stand in a room lit by two windows—
A bedroom, it is,
With a closet,
A bed,
A vanity with a big round mirror and a green-cushioned bench,
A brush and comb lying neatly on a doily.

On the nightstand, there is a clock that plays “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.”

The old woman is making the bed.
The little girl is helping her.
They smooth the top sheet over the bottom, the woman bending
(at the waist—her back stays straight as an arrow),
The girl reaching on tiptoe.
The woman’s knobby fingers, crooked with arthritis,
Brush the cotton into serenity
While the little girl tries to follow.

At the foot of the bed
The woman lifts the mattress
And sweeps the end of the sheet under.
At the corner she says, “Here, let me show you how to do this.”

The little girl rushes over,
Stands at rapt attention.

“Pull this up”—the old woman catches the sheet in her stiff fingers—“and tuck this in”—she sweeps the lower edge under with her other hand—“then fold this over”—she drops the upper flap and tucks it under too.
Now there is a neat, tight corner
As crisp as the folds on a cardboard gift box.

“Let me, let me!”
The little girl hops from foot to foot.
Her glasses bounce on her nose.
How badly she wants to be able to do things!

Her grandmother plucks the sheet back out and they go through the steps again,
(For there is time enough)
Old fingers shadowing young.

When she’s done
The girl looks up
Through smudged lenses,
Fixes hungrily on her grandmother’s face.
Her world hangs, for a moment, on the old woman’s expression.

The grandmother feels
The force of that look
Feels it like fire,
Is pierced by it
Goodness, it could take her breath away
But she is steady.
She smiles. Rests her palm lightly
On the girl’s fine, wheat-colored hair.

“Very good,” she says, but
The words don’t matter much.
The girl has already found what she was waiting (on tenterhooks) for,
In her grandmother’s face.

Together they lift the white chenille bedspread
And cover their handiwork.

How fraught with peril it is
To be alive.
How sharp a pain is love, sometimes.

How lucky they are.

Nancy Squires July 2017